Over the next 10 years it’s expected the city of Prince George will need new housing for 10,000 residents.
That’s great news for local companies in the housing industry whose businesses would be in good position to benefit financially if that forecast prediction comes true.
But there’s at least one roadblock in that pathway to prosperity that Doug Rooke is well aware of. During that 10-year period it’s anticipated that 41 per cent of the construction workforce will reach the age of retirement. Not enough young workers are entering the industry to replace them and that’s a problem.
“That’s one of the reasons that we’re talking about automation and off-site manufacturing is because it’s just going to become next to impossible to grow with the model we employ today with construction,” said Rooke, general manager of Winton Global Homes & Cottages, who spoke about future trends in house construction Friday at the BC Council of Forest Industries convention in Prince George.
“So how do we do it differently? Certainly upskilling jobs to control automated pieces of equipment will be the jobs of the future for construction.”
Building single-family homes is labour-intensive and the price of those homes is becoming more unaffordable with the escalating costs of materials and labour outstripping disposable income. Rooke says that will drive demand for more multi-family dwellings and the way to keep costs down is to automate and use robotic equipment to build prefabricated walls, beams, floors and rooves in a factory setting.
“That technology piece is the pathway to higher productivity and better specification and more repeatability in terms of design and learning,” said Rooke. “It forces quality upstream in the supply chain and you have to solve a lot of the problems up front in order for the equipment to work well, instead of finding out at site, which is costly and causes a lot of delays.
“If you deal with quality issues with digital planning in advance, you can eliminate a lot of the errors that are a drag on productivity.”
With manufacturing equipment driven by digital designs, waste is reduced and it takes less time and labour to build. Planning with digital technology and virtual models works out architectural problems well in advance of applying for permits and Rooke says that can speed up construction timelines.
Owned by the Sinclar Group, Winton Global currently builds about 200 single-family dwellings annually and also built the six-story student residence on Patricia Boulevard, which utilizes mostly wood construction.